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  • There is something extraordinarily about the 84-year-old Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh. He has an uncanny ability to clear away the complexities of our lives by reminding us to think about the essence of who we are and offering some simple steps to challenge our habitualised problems.

    In recent years, he has turned his full attention to the dangers of climate change. "In my mind I see a group of chickens in a cage disputing over a few seeds of grain, unaware that in a few hours they will all be killed," he writes. Above all else, he teaches that the world cannot be changed outside of ourselves. The answer is for each one of us to transform the fear, anger, and despair which we cover-up with over-consumption. If we are filling our bodies and minds with toxins, it is no surprise that the world around us also becomes poisoned.

    Like many other spiritual leaders, he sees the genesis of our pain as coming from our dualistic mindset that sees our connection to God, or Buddha, or Spirit as outside ourselves and accessible only after our death. As a result we have developed a strong ego that sees itself as separate and threatened and needs to amass things like wealth to feel strong and protected. But none of these can fill the chasm created by our deep sense of separation. "The energy we need is not fear or anger, but the energy of understanding and compassion. There is no need to blame or condemn. Those who are destroying themselves, societies and the planet aren't doing it intentionally. Their pain and loneliness are overwhelming and they want to escape. They need to be helped, not punished. Only understanding and compassion on a collective level can liberate us."

    Thay, as he is known, believes that within every person are the seeds of love, compassion and understanding. Using a gardening metaphor, he says our experience of life depends on which seeds we choose to water. To help water those positive seeds and create a new global ethic, Thay's Order of Interbeing has distilled the Buddha's teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path into five core principles.

    The Five Mindfulness Trainings, updated in the last year to make them relevant to our fast-changing world, are not a set of strict rules but a direction to head in.

    Thay explains in the First Training we vow to cherish all life on Earth and not support any acts of killing.

    In the Second Training we pledge to practice generosity and not support social injustice and oppression.

    In the Third Training we make a commitment to behave responsibly in our relationships.

    The Fourth Training asks us to practice loving speech and deep listening in order to relieve others of suffering.

    The practice of mindful consumption and mindful eating is the object of the Fifth Mindfulness Training.
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